LONDON - When 49 ivorian soldiers landed at the airport in Bamako, Mali’s capital, on July 10th they did not expect trouble, reports The economist.

For several years hundreds of Ivorians have patrolled their northern neighbour as un peacekeepers. Yet the Malian junta, in charge after coups in 2020 and 2021, arrested the soldiers and called them mercenaries with a “dark purpose”. Ivory Coast said the soldiers were fulfilling a long-standing un security contract—and demanded their release.

More than two months later 46 of them are still detained. The saga marks another step in Mali’s descent. Jihadists loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State are ravaging the country and the broader Sahel region.

The junta had promised to hold elections in February but seven months on, no votes have been cast. Constant spats with France, which once had more than 5,000 troops fighting jihadists at Mali’s request, prompted the former colonial power to withdraw completely this year.

Another reason why the French left was that the junta hired Russian mercenaries from Wagner Group. Since their arrival, the mercenaries and Malian army have massacred hundred of civilians, yet failed to improve security.

By mid-September more than 3,600 people had been killed this year, almost double the number for all of last year.